Crowned Eagle Achievements

 

The eagle spent the night at the Hilton Vet for observation before being transferred to FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Howick. Raptor Rescue Rehabilitation Centre was contacted, and advised that the eagle spend another night recovering at FreeMe.

On January 25, crowned eagle researcher, Dr Shane McPherson (UKZN), and Raptor Rescue Manager, Tammy Caine, went to collect the eagle. It was looking very alert and strong, and had eaten a substantial meal the previous evening. Dr McPherson fitted the eagle with a SAFRING metal identification band and a green colour ring bearing the alphanumeric code V4 that will help with visual identification of the bird in future.

The fledgling was taken back to the nest site in Winterskloof and released, with mixed results. Although the young bird was perfectly capable of flying, it had not yet mastered its landing technique, and kept crashing through bushes and landing in the undergrowth. After two unsuccessful attempts to get the chick higher up in the trees surrounding the nest, staff decided to take it through to a flight pen at Raptor Rescue to allow it to gain some experience.

The young bird was released again the following afternoon with far more success. It not only gained a tentative perch on its first flight, but the adult female crowned eagle was present at the nest and came down immediately and landed nearby, calling to the fledgling. The last sighting was of the fledgling, followed by the female, heading down the valley. Residents of the Hilton/Winterskloof area are asked to report any sightings of the bird to Raptor Rescue (076 724 6846; 082 359 0900), FreeMe (033 330 3036) or Dr McPherson (061 516 0906).

There is a natural 70% mortality rate among birds of prey in their first year of life. It is a very difficult period for the young birds from the time they leave their nests until they have learned to hunt and survive on their own. Although the parent birds will continue to hunt and bring food to the chick for several months, once the new breeding cycle starts, the young bird will no longer be tolerated in the birth territory, and will be chased out by the parent birds, forcefully if necessary.

At this stage, the juvenile will not only have to hunt successfully, but will also have to avoid danger and eventually find a safe territory of its own to settle in. It is during this critical survival period that young crowned eagles often come into conflict with people. Unable to tell the difference between what should be considered natural prey, and a pet, these young birds are often the culprits of taking the occasional small dog or cat (research concludes this forms less than 1% of their total diet). Although some people show understanding and tolerance despite losing a beloved pet, judging by the number of crowned eagles and other raptors that are admitted to the rehabilitation centres after being shot, this is not always the case.

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